Friday, January 2
Genesis 2: There are two apparently irreconcilable aspects to the New Testament’s affirmation of Natural Revelation—the knowledge of God available in the data of the created world.
On the one hand, it is affirmed that man is able to discover God’s existence from examining His works in nature, because “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20). There is not a word in this text about faith. Indeed, how can one believe in what is “clearly seen”?
On the other hand, it is equally attested that “he who comes to God must believe that He is” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith, not reason, is affirmed here. However, if faith in God’s existence is necessary, how am I to have faith in what I already know? How is it possible to know and believe in the same thing?
Since both things are affirmed in Holy Scripture, however, one suspects what we have here is a mystery, not a just a philosophical dilemma.
Saint Bonaventure approaches this problem by concentrating on the special sense of “knowing” when this verb refers to God as an object. When a thinker arrives at the inference “God” at the end of a logical argument, he does not know God as he knows some other object of his rational perception. He does not perceive God as he perceives, for instance, the Principle of Non-Contradiction or the theorems of mathematics. God does not give form to his intellect in the same way that his intellect is informed by rational truths. God remains God and therefore inaccessible to the mind’s comprehension.
Someone who believes that God is one and is the Creator of all, if he should begin to know this same fact (ipsum idem) from arguments of rational necessity, does not for this reason stop believing; likewise, if someone should already know this, the arrival of faith does not remove the knowledge of it. Our experience testifies to this.
With regard to reason’s knowledge of God’s existence, Bonaventure says, “the light and certitude of this knowledge is not such that, having it, the light of faith is superfluous; indeed, it is necessary with it.” Therefore, he concludes that, in the case of God, knowing and believing “are compatible, simultaneously and in the same respect” (On the Sentences 3.24.2,3).
Saturday, January 3
Genesis 3: When we think of Adam’s Fall, there is a passive participle that should come forcefully to our minds: lost.
Fallen man is lost. Worse, he continues to get lost. It is a mistake to think of the fallen human being as somehow looking for God. Indeed, the very opposite is true; fallen man is not looking for God, he is running away from God. When the human race fell in Adam, a kind of spiritual inertia came into play, a force that kept him going in the same direction—away from God. Of himself man had no power of initiative to reverse the movement. This is what is meant by the Fall.
If man was to return to God, God had to take the initiative. If God had not sought man out, he would have kept going in the same direction—away. This is very clear in the biblical story of Adam’s hiding from God immediately after his disobedience. He and all his descendants would still be lying low there in the bushes if God had not come after him, inquiring, “Where are you?”
It was not that God did not know where to find Adam. It was Adam who was lost, not God. God knew where Adam was, but Adam didn’t. God’s query, “Where are you?” was intended to wake lost man up to his real situation. As such, it was the first proclamation of the Gospel, the merciful word that began to reverse the direction of man’s existence. Indeed, it was the first step toward the mystery of the Incarnation.
This divine inquiry was necessary because man had no interest in finding God. It was of God, on the contrary, that Adam was most afraid, because
God recognized him to be naked. God understood this and promptly provided a covering for man’s nakedness. It was the initial step toward man’s final clothing, indicated in St. Paul’s exhortation to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).
But even when confronted by his sin, Adam did not accept the accompanying guilt and responsibility. He immediately blamed Eve: “The woman You gave me, gave me of the tree, and I ate” (3:12). Indeed, this response even seems to blame God for the Fall. Adam speaks of Eve as “the woman You gave me,” as though to say, “I did not ask for a wife; this whole arrangement was Your idea. This woman, whom You designed, is the one who got me into this mess.”
Eve, for her part, follows Adam’s example of passing the blame: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (3:13). This too was God’s fault, of course, because He created this “creeping thing” (1:25). Eve could hardly hold herself responsible for what had happened.
Sunday, January 4
Genesis 4: Genesis does not indicate why God favored Abel’s sacrifice, while rejecting that of Cain. For the answer to this question we must go to Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.”
In verse 7 of the Hebrew text, the Lord describes evil as “lying at the door” in wait for Cain. Temptation is portrayed as lurking for a man, stalking him, and Cain is exhorted to vigilance, lest he be taken by it. The Hebrew participle for “lying” here, robesh, may be better translated as “crouching.” It is related to the name of a god in Assyro-Babylonian literature known as Rabishu, who is described as crouching along the road, endeavoring to waylay the traveler.
Cain is warned not to fool with it; it is dangerous. Cain’s mother, after all, had made the big mistake of dialoguing with the snake. Satan, however, invariably wins over those who discuss things with him. Or, as we read in the Wisdom of Sirach 21:2, “Flee from sin as you would from the presence of a snake, / For if you approach it, it will bite you.”
Cain pays no heed, nonetheless, and goes on to kill his brother. The first sin leads to the second. The original alienation in chapter 3 becomes the murder in chapter 4. Jealousy and violence are the proper products of that first act of infidelity. Cain, the first human being begotten of human parents, is also the first murderer.
This murder was not committed in a fit of passion. Cain showed, by his response to God in verse 9, that he had closed off his heart to God. His disrespect for God was the foundation on which his murder was based. He could not have killed unless he had isolated himself from God.
Moreover, by this murder Cain alienated himself from the very ground on which he walked. He had begun as a farmer, but now he is alienated from the soil. He has assumed, by his sin, the impossible task of being a wandering farmer. The foundational reason for Cain’s alienation from the earth and his fellowmen is his alienation from God.
At this point a new element enters the scene, vengeance. Cain is afraid of the retaliation that may be visited on his head because of his murder of Abel. Violence begets violence. God’s reply to Cain is reassuring to Cain himself, but it further extends the domain of violence. If Cain is killed, the vengeance will be sevenfold!
Monday, January 5
Genesis 5: In this first biblical genealogy we draw special attention to the figure of Enoch. After the Epistle to the Hebrews gives its initial definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1), there follows the famous list of the “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1), those “elders” who “obtained a good testimony” by exemplifying such faith (11:2).
One can hardly fail to observe in this list the strong emphasis on death with respect to this saving faith. Throughout Hebrews 11 faith has to do with how one dies, and “these all died in faith” (11:13).
This emphasis on death in the context of faith renders very interesting the inclusion of Enoch among the list of faith’s exemplars, because
Enoch departed this world in some way other than death. Indeed, in the genealogy here in chapter 5, the verb “died” occurs eight times with respect to the patriarchs from Adam to Lamech, but in the case of Enoch, “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 14), our text says simply he “was well-pleasing to God, and was not found, for God translated him.” By way of commentary on this passage, the Epistle to the Hebrews says,
By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken ; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
That ancient “testimony” cited in the Epistle to the Hebrews is found in the Wisdom of Solomon (4:10-14).
Unlike the other heroes listed in Hebrews 11, Enoch did not die in faith, for the unusual reason that he did not die at all. He nonetheless deserved a place in that heroic list, we are told, because “he pleased God” by his faith.
Thus, when we believers “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), when we approach “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven,” there stands Enoch among “the spirits of just men made perfect” (12:23).
Living before Noah, Abraham, and Moses, Enoch was participant in none of the covenants associated with these men. Not a single line of Holy Scripture was yet written for him to read. Much less did Enoch ever hear the message of salvation preached by the Apostles. Yet, he was so pleasing to God by his faith as to be snatched away before his time, not suffering that common lot of death from which the Almighty spared not even His own Son.
Tuesday, January 6
Genesis 6: In the New Testament the Deluge, to which these next five chapters of Genesis are devoted, is understood as a type of baptism. Thus, St. Peter, writing of Christ’s descent into hell after His death, goes on immediately to treat of Noah, the Deluge, our own baptisms, and the Lord’s Resurrection. For the early Christians, these are all components of the same Mystery of regeneration:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18–21).
We must be baptized because we are sinners, and our sins are washed away in baptism: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Or earlier, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (2:38).
Like the Deluge, there is something destructive about baptism. Baptism has been given to the world because the world is full of sin, and through this water we are delivered from the world of sin. Whether we speak of the baptismal type in the Deluge, therefore, or of the fulfillment of that type in baptism itself, we must begin with sin.
Thus, the Deluge account begins with a description of a world full of sin (verses 1–5, 11–13), ending with God’s sorrow at having made man and His resolve to destroy man from the earth (vv. 6–7). Noah alone has pleased God (v. 8), so God will spare Noah and his family. God commands Noah to build the ark, and He remains patient a while longer while the ark is being constructed (1 Peter 3:20).
Then Noah and his family wait quietly in the ark for seven days, until the rains come. The rains come “after seven days” (v. 10), which is to say, on the eighth day. The number seven, reminiscent of the week of Creation, signifies the old world, whereas the number eight serves as a symbol of the New Creation. In the second century, St. Justin Martyr remarked that
the mystery of saved men happened in the Deluge, because righteous Noah, along with other human beings at the Deluge—namely, his own wife, his three children, and the wives of his sons—who were eight persons in number, contained a symbol of the number of the eighth day, in which our Christ appeared, having risen from the dead” (Dialogue with Trypho 138.1).
Wednesday, January 7
Genesis 7: Noah’s construction of the ark represented his faith, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews:
By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (11:7).
Noah not only lived in righteousness; he also preached righteousness to his contemporaries. The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), and late in the first century Clement of Rome wrote that “Noah preached repentance, and those who heeded him were saved” (Epistle to the Corinthians 7.6). Evidently, however, their number included only members of his own family; if a man can bring his own family to conversion, sometimes this is sufficient.
This picture of Noah as a somewhat unsuccessful preacher came to the early Christians from Jewish lore. Flavius Josephus wrote of Noah’s relationship to his contemporaries in this way:
Noah was most uncomfortable with their actions, and, not at all happy with their conduct, he persuaded them to improve their dispositions and their actions. Seeing, nonetheless, that they did not obey him but remained slaves to their own wicked desires, he feared that they would slay him, together with his wife and children, as well as the spouses of the latter, so he departed out of that land (Antiquities 13.1)
Unlike Noah’s contemporaries, we ourselves hearken to his preaching. That is to say, we submit to this new baptismal flood because we repent at the witness of Noah. Baptism presupposes and requires this repentance of our sins, this conversion of our hearts to the apostolic word of Noah. In repentance we plunge ourselves into the deeper mystery of Noah’s flood, which is the death and Resurrection of Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12).
Thursday, January 8
Genesis 8: The dove sent out by Noah is also rich in symbolism. Since, as we have seen, baptism is the fulfillment of that mystery of which the flood was a type, we should rather expect the dove to appear in the New Testament descriptions of baptism, and indeed it does. At the baptism of our Lord, the Holy Spirit assumes that form in order to confirm the testimony of the Father, who proclaims Jesus His beloved Son. Thus, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote,
Some say that, just as salvation came in the time of Noah by the wood and the water, and as the dove came back to Noah in the evening with an olive branch, so, they say, the Holy Spirit descended on the true Noah, the author of the new creation, when the spiritual dove came upon him at his baptism, to demonstrate that he it is who, by the wood of the cross, confers salvation on believers, and who, by his death at eventide, conferred on the world the grace of salvation.
The ark, on which the Spirit descends, is a symbol of the Church, the vessel of salvation. In the ironical words of Cyprian of Carthage in the mid-third century, “If anyone who was outside the ark could have escaped, so would he escape who was outside the Church” (On the Unity of the Catholic Church 6). That is to say, it is impossible to be saved outside of the Church, because the name of Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven given us by which we must be saved, and the Ark-Church is the vessel that holds all of those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ unto their salvation.
We may summarize Christian teaching on the story of the Flood with these words of John Chrysostom in the second half of the fourth century:
The narrative of the Flood is a mystery, and its details are a type of things to come. The ark is the Church; Noah is Christ; the dove, the Holy Spirit; the olive branch, the divine goodness. As in the midst of the sea, the ark protected those who were within it, so the Church saves those who are saved (Homily on Lazarus 6).
Friday, January 9
Genesis 9: With respect to the covenant with Noah, something should be said of the Mosaic covenant as described in Exodus 31. This latter text ties the covenant on Sinai to both the Sabbath rest and the covenant with Abraham. The “sign” of the Mosaic covenant is the Sabbath, which is described in terms very reminiscent of the covenant with Noah here in chapter 9. The Sabbath is the sign (’oth) between God and Israel (Exodus 31:13, 17), much as the covenant with Noah is between God and “all flesh.” More specifically, the Sabbath is the sign of Israel’s “perpetual covenant” (berith ‘olam) with God (Exodus 31:16). Thus, in the Exodus account we find the same vocabulary used with respect to the Sabbath that we have here in chapter 9 to describe the symbolic function of the rainbow.
It is instructive to observe three points with respect to these similarities between Genesis 9 and Exodus 31:
First, they are intentional and deliberately invite a theological comparison between the two covenants as they appear in the history of salvation, the covenant with mankind at the conclusion of the Flood and the covenant with Israel at the conclusion of the Exodus.
Second, both “signs” in these covenants are built on the structure of nature itself. This is true not only of the rainbow, but also of the Sabbath. It is clearly the teaching of Genesis 2:2–3 that the Sabbath pertains to the natural structure of that creature known as “time.”
Thus, each of these covenants is signified (that is to say, marked with a sign) by a component that God placed in created nature.
Third, in the case of the covenant with Noah following the Flood, God Himself preserves the sign of the covenant. He places His bow in the heavens (9:13). In the Mosaic covenant, in contrast, the maintenance of the covenant sign depends on Israel. It is Israel that is charged to preserve the Sabbath. Thus, the similarities between these two covenants introduce also a contrast.